Media Release by Senator the Hon Jan McLucas

100th PlayConnect Playgroup opens for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

The Australian Government has delivered its 100th PlayConnect Playgroup, with the official opening of a playgroup in Eden Hills in South Australia today.

The PlayConnect program is now helping families and carers of more than 600 young children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) or ASD-like symptoms across Australia.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers Jan McLucas said today’s opening marked a major milestone for the PlayConnect Playgroups initiative.

“Early intervention can make a huge difference to the quality of life for children with an autism spectrum disorders, making these playgroups very important,” Senator McLucas said.

The Australian Government has provided $4.5 million to Playgroup Australia to deliver 150 PlayConnect Playgroups for children with ASD or ASD-like symptoms up to six years of age.

The national network of PlayConnect Playgroups is part of the Australian Government’s $190 million Helping Children with Autism package to provide support and services for children with ASDs.

“PlayConnect Playgroups offer play-based learning opportunities for children while providing parents and carers the opportunity to develop social networks and link with other early intervention services in their local area,” Senator McLucas said.

A mother of a 3 year old with ASD who attends a local playgroup said “The PlayConnect Playgroup has been such a wonderful opportunity for me to meet other mums who understand what I’m going through, and for my son to interact with other children in a safe, supportive environment.”

Another parent said, “Playconnect has been such a great support for our family while we negotiate this new world of autism, meeting with other families and learning from them and sharing our experiences has been a highlight of our week.”

The Playgroups are free and are open to families who have either received a formal diagnosis of ASD, or whose child may be displaying ASD-like symptoms.

The Australian Government is building on the Helping Children With Autism package, and from 1 July 2011 will provide new access to early intervention services for more children with a disability under the Better Start for Children with Disability initiative.

Children under six diagnosed with sight and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or fragile X syndrome will be eligible for services under this new program.

A maximum of $6,000 can be spent in any financial year and families will have up to their child’s seventh birthday to use the funding.

The Government is committed to improving access to early intervention services to help give more children with disability a better start in life.